In preparing my speech for today, I looked over the last speech I gave at Yale. It was the Class Day Address to the Class of 1994.
In that speech, I challenged those Yale graduates to create a "World Without War". I said to them that such an achievement for the following years would be the greatest accomplishment in the history of the world! They were impressed. They even cheered. But now much of the world is at war again. That fact alone proves that I was not the world's most successful speaker or visionary.
Also in the speech I gave in 1994, I said that the Arabs and the Jews seemed to be getting together in the Middle East. Once again I was wrong. I also said that the Asian and Pacific nations were not threatening each other militarily. Again I was wrong.
So much for the accuracy of my crystal ball!!
But my speech in 1994 did contain a few nuggets of truth. I suggested that we lived in an era that was yet to be defined; and I believe that is still true. But I also believe we are now closer to a new definition, a definition opening to us because of recent events.
In 1994, I challenged the graduates of Yale to stand for something, which Martin Luther King had encouraged all of us to do when he said, "Believe in something so fervently that you will stand up for it till the end of your days."
Today, it has become easier to stand up for military defense and also for aggressive action against enemies of our nation, especially if you are a New York policeman or fireman, a postal worker or a mayor of any city under attack. But it may not be so easy to stand for peace in a nation darkened by conflict, and looking to war for quick solutions.
Therefore, I believe we have to ask ourselves: NOT what has served us well in the past but, what has fundamentally changed, and how should our political, diplomatic, and service institutions behave in this radically, new world?
Because I began my public service in Washington, DC with the Peace Corps, and because the world so desperately needs Peace today, I want to make that agency part of my remarks today.
I've been asked a lot of critical questions about the Peace Corps in response to the horrific events of September 11. How is it possible that so many citizens of Afghanistan clearly hate Americans in spite of years of service from American Peace Corps Volunteers working side by side with them? Why would we want to send new volunteers to Pakistan or Afghanistan today, when terrorists and killers there would love to have more innocent Americans to kill? These are tough questions that raise good points. I certainly don't have all the answers, but I can tell you this:
The Peace Corps WAS there in Afghanistan, and virtually everywhere else in the world, and some lives were changed, both the lives of American volunteers, and lives of the people they served. Is it America's primary purpose in the world to change and improve lives, or to snuff them out? This is a question that IS relevant to the Peace Corps but it suggests a larger, more expansive mission than the small Peace Corps our nation is financing now.
Why look to the Peace Corps in a time of such extreme danger? I believe it's necessary to do so, because we're now living in a new world; and without peace, the new world will have no future, except death! Isn't this the challenge which bin Laden and other terrorist groups have put before us? "What have you got," they say to us, "that is truly worth defending? Your sky-scrapers; your blue chip stocks; your luxury cars; your trade agreements; your computer networks; your flashy movies; your fast food? Stack all that up against men like ours who readily give up their lives for God, and you've got nothing, America! Nothing!"
Maybe they're right. Let's suppose for a moment that they are. What have we got that's worth defending, worth dying for? I say that peace is the answer. No matter how many bombs we drop, no matter how skillfully our soldiers fight, we are not responding to the ultimate challenge until we show the world how and why we must all learn to live in peace, until peace becomes the only permanent alternative to war.
Our present world cries out for a new Peace Corps, a vastly improved, expanded, and profoundly deeper enterprise. Why? Simply because our capacity to kill each other has far outstripped our capacity to live together. Now we live in a world of low-tech killing, where plastic knives and innocent-looking envelopes can do the job just as efficiently as nuclear bombs. There must be an alternative to this endless cycle of killing, not just for America's sake, but for all of humanity.
Peace is much more than the mere absence of war. Peace requires the simple but powerful recognition that what we have in common as human beings is more important and crucial than what divides us.
You may think these are just the rantings of an old man defending his outdated ideas. But I'm not defending the old Peace Corps – I'm attacking it! We didn't go far enough! Our dreams were large, but our actions were small. We never really gave the goal of "World Wide Peace" an overwhelming commitment. Nor did we establish a clear, inspiring vision for attaining it. If we had, the world wouldn't be in the mess we are in. We may have only one more opportunity to get it right.
When we proposed legislation for the original Peace Corps, we came up with only three goals: (1) to provide technical assistance to poor people; (2) to promote better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and (3) to bring the world home to America. Forty years later, we could probably question some of these goals, or scrap them altogether. But I propose that we renew our vision by concentrating on a new Fourth Goal. We've struggled with words for the Fourth Goal, but let me give you the sense of it: to bind all human beings together in a common cause to assure peace and survival for all.
Words can be tricky, and I don't want to debate the meaning of the phrase I just uttered. I just want you to catch its spirit: to bind all people together in common cause to assure peace and survival for all.
Now more than ever, we depend on one another for our very existence! We are not just Americans, or Jews, or Muslims, or Catholics, or rich, or poor, or famous, or obscure. Yes, some of us still wear these labels today, during our short existence on earth. But we must bequeath to our children and grand-children a world of stark choices: Peace or Death. As for me, for my children, my wife, and my friends, I choose Peace.
The Call to War can only take us so far; I say what our nation needs now is a Call to Peace and to Service, Peace and Service on a scale we have scarcely begun to imagine.
Let us unleash the power of young people in all nations to see the world for what it is now, and then go out to change it for the better. Let's join in common cause with all countries to eradicate poverty and militarism. Let's create a new Peace Corps we can believe in, led by exceptional people, not afraid to tackle difficult assignments, unswerving in their dedication to living and working alongside citizens of other nations who want to create a safe and stable world. Give us a new Peace Corps worthy of a Mahatma Gandhi, a Martin Luther King, a Nelson Mandela, or a Nobel Peace Prize. Give us a new Peace Corps whose accomplishments match its ideals. Give us a new Peace Corps that doesn't merely hope for peace, but goes out and builds it, brick-by-brick, human being by human being.
To America's young people, who listen with despair to the nightly drum beat of bad news, I'm saying: Peace is the Answer. Help us transform a new Peace Corps into a living embodiment of YOUR ideals, your sincere connection with people whose differences matter far less to you than your kinship with them. After all, we are brothers and sisters living on a tiny, fragile planet, under the same sun. To our knowledge, nothing like us exists anywhere else in the immense universe. I think today's young people get this, and they have better ideas than I do about creating a safe and healthy planet.
"To bind all human beings together in a common cause to assure peace and survival for all." That is a mission worthy of a new Peace Corps, worthy of America, worthy of all humankind. This Fourth Goal must be our vision, our over-riding goal in a new Peace Corps. But how do we get there? Fortunately, a great many people, including dedicated groups of former Volunteers, have been giving this a lot of thought. I'll give you the broad outlines of their plan, just to demonstrate that this isn't pie-in-the-sky idealism.
The first step is to drastically alter the programming of the Peace Corps to make the agency much more ambitious both in scope and size. Currently there are barely 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers in the field in 71 countries. President Clinton promised, but failed to persuade the Congress to appropriate the necessary funds to bring the number up to 10,000. The current Administration could easily fill 50,000 positions within a year, if the missions of the Peace Corps were expanded with a sense of urgency. Where there is a will, there is a way. We established the Peace Corps as an agency just with an Executive Order and no congressional action. Within seven months, we had thousands of volunteers in the field overseas.
What would new volunteers be assigned to do today, beyond the scope of current Peace Corps assignments? They could join with existing organizations in poor nations to build up societies, to ensure the fairness of local elections, organize forums, train small-scale entrepreneurs, and strengthen the ethic of service, both in public and private sectors. Volunteers could work directly for youth and health organizations in host countries. They would foster positive activities which would displace violence, fanaticism, and ignorance about the goodness of all human beings. The Volunteers' very presence and peaceful activities in the face of volatile situations would exemplify democratic values and peaceful commitment without having to preach them.
Of course we would still send volunteers, as requested by host nations, to teach in schools, to work in hospitals, to help small businesses and entrepreneurs, and fill other technical roles. But a deliberate focus on education and health would provide ample challenges for an expanded new Peace Corps.
A second way to transform the Peace Corps into a new agency would be to harness the potentials of technology. Beginning in October 2000, the Peace Corps teamed up with AOL Time Warner and the Hewlett-Packard Company to bring the benefits of information technology to more communities in the developing world. These companies have committed to providing 120 volunteers in 15 countries around the world with "Peace Packs", powerful containers of computers, modems, printers, digital cameras, and access to the Internet. We need to double and triple such efforts to spread information technology globally. We should put at least as much emphasis on delivering intelligence, and useful human knowledge, as we do on gathering intelligence to fight the enemy.
A third way is to deploy the talents and dedication of the existing 162,000 Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Now, in the nation's hour of need, Returned Peace Corps Volunteers are uniquely equipped to serve overseas again, and to inspire global leadership within our own country. Many can speak the languages that are needed. They are comfortable in settings that even our military does not accept or occupy. Also, the Crisis Corps, founded in 1996 for just such a purpose, mobilizes Returned Peace Corps Volunteers to provide short-term assistance after natural disasters and in humanitarian crises. While this program has been successful over the last five years of its existence, only 300 Crisis Corps Volunteers have served in 21 countries to date. We must strengthen and expand this remarkable program so that we can send Returned Peace Corps Volunteers into every country in the world.
Would any of this renewed emphasis on Service make the world any safer? It already has! Years ago, one Volunteer joined a smallpox eradication team in Central Africa. Together they vaccinated 60,000 people, and within a few years after these workings, the disease was eliminated from the face of the earth. The Peace Corps Volunteer was one of only a hundred people doing such work, and look what they accomplished! Another volunteer set up a library, left books behind, and years later he met a young man who might have grown up to be terrorist, but instead was absorbed by one of the math text-books, stayed with it, and is now a math professor in Toronto. Thousands, perhaps millions of such cases can be cited from the history of the Peace Corp's 40 years of effort. Imagine what a new, large scale effort could accomplish for a new World dedicated to Peace, unanimously.
The Peace Corps now is the only agency in the United States government which makes peace not only attractive, but possible. I admonish you to empower, renew, and greatly increase the Peace Corps so that it becomes a pragmatic and dramatic symbol of America's commitment to peace, even if our nation temporarily must defend our land and our people against contemporary, vicious, and lethal attacks.
Yes, it is obvious that the war against terrorism requires a military response. Yet it is equally obvious that a military response cannot achieve peace. If we deploy the idealism of America's citizens against the fanatical haters of America, we will see a new Peace Corps become our nation's most effective anti-terrorism program, and the creator of a world finally capable of achieving the universal, cherished dream of peace.
But our goal, please remember, is not just the survival of America, it is the survival of our whole planet. When our deeds match our ideals, we will be living life as it ought to be lived. This is not just an American dream, it is a universal need. A new Peace Corps would be the living embodiment of this precept, stripped of all harmful religious and political overtones. A new Peace Corps would be the best America has to offer the world, in this hour of great need. Hopefully and optimistically, I believe that many nations and nationalities will enthusiastically join us in the creation of a "New World of Peace," for everyone, everywhere.
Today there is no possibility of saving life for all, except through "Peace for all."